Courts Remain busy in 2019 – 670,000 matters dealt with.
Modernisation programme catapulted forward in response to Covid- 19 Crisis
Business of courts has moved on five years in five months says Chief Justice.
Courts Service Annual Report 2019 in brief:
- Chief Justice welcomes legislative initiatives to help us further respond to Covid-19 in courts, now, and modernise for tomorrow
- Courts Family law complex attracts Government-approved funding.
- Courts modernisation thinking moves five years over five months as reaction to Covid-19 restrictions allows for initiatives and innovation
- Courts Digital First programme and the report due on Civil Justice review – will be the backbone of ten years of modernisation ahead
- 30% increase in interim barring order applications last year.
- Asylum case backlog cleared and numbers of new cases drop sharply
- 40% drop in new Bankruptcies
- 28% drop in possession cases initiated: 37% drop in possession orders
- 63% of rape sentences are over ten years in length
- 30% of licensing applications move online immediately as eLicensing is piloted and rolled out.
“2019 seems like a different time and will be used as a benchmark for how courts were before the pandemic”. Chief Justice Frank Clarke
Four Courts, Dublin July 22nd, 2020, 11:00 am: The Chief Justice Mr Justice Frank Clarke has presented the 2019 Annual Report of the Courts Service to the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee at a physically distanced event in the Four Courts today. He said “the report related to 2019 which, in so many respects, seems now like a different era. The report for 2020 will undoubtedly be very different. But this 2019 report perhaps provides a benchmark of where our courts stood prior to the pandemic striking”.
Welcoming proposed legal changes - which will help the courts both respond now to work within Covid-19 restrictions, and drive for modernisation in this age of rapid innovation, he said, “I know that there are some additional legislative measures approved by the cabinet which will help us – amongst many things - expand the use of video conferencing and begin the use of filing electronically. These are very welcome. I also welcome the commitment in the Programme for Government both to establish a process to identify the current and medium-term requirement for judicial numbers, and also to advance a new structure for the delivery of family justice”.
He mentioned that the Courts Service’s own Modernisation Programme and the expected report of the Civil Justice Review Committee, expected in September, “will form important building blocks for the development of a significantly modernised civil courts structure in the coming years”.
Family law funding secured by Minister:
He said “I very much welcome the fact that you, Minister, have secured additional funding so as to enable the Hammond Lane project to go ahead. That building will provide the physical infrastructure in Dublin in which the new family court structure which is proposed, can operate to its greatest effect".
In his foreword to the report he said that “in a year where we saw 445,000 criminal and 233,000 civil matters be presented to the courts, I can say with confidence that the courts and the Courts Service have evolved and responded to the changes in volume and in case types so as to meet the needs of court users”.
The Chief Justice remarked that in response to the recent months of pandemic, the thinking, planning and actions of the Courts Service has developed five years over five months
Court Cases and Court Business
The levels and types of cases and business conducted every year in our courts can give a picture of society and of the response of the justice sector to it. In 2019 many things changed;
- Wills: 17,716 wills were administered through the probate process - along with the 3,542 estates which presented without a will (intestate).
- Practice directions in the High Court have seen the elimination of any backlog in Asylum cases; a more efficient list in personal insolvency appeals, and no delays in hearing commercial cases.
- Paperless hearings in commercial cases have been piloted. The Personal Insolvency list of the High Court is largely paperless. The first paperless case heard through the Irish Language happened in 2019.
- Personal Injury: Although there was a slight decrease in personal injuries claims, there was a 75% increase in the value of medical negligence awards. This almost certainly reflects the number of major catastrophic injury cases being dealt with in the year – where provision is made for a lifetime of needed care results in large awards, and where lower returns on investment require greater sums to provide that.
- Personal Debt: 37% decrease in possession orders made and 28% decrease in new possession cases lodged, tell a story of a recovering economy, of less personal debt, and a greater engagement over years with personal insolvency mechanisms. The number of registered judgments for debt decreased by 27% from 2,673 in 2018, to 1953 in 2019. The numbers petitioned to be made bankrupt dropped by 40% to 230 – down from 382.
- Chancery: There was a decrease of 15% in Chancery matters lodged in the area of contracts, intestacies and trust actions.
- Wards of Court: 385 people were made Wards of Court: 45 because of brain injury; 218 due to dementia or age-related illness; 53 due to a learning or intellectual disability; 21 because they were a minor; and 48 due to psychiatric illness. There was an increase of 35% in applications for Enduring Power of Attorney – which are needed in circumstances where people are no longer capable of decision making in relation to their own care.
- Employment cases (other than dismissal claims), saw a doubling of new cases lodged last year. 113 up from 50.
- Small Claims: A one third increase in new small claims to 4,267 from 3476.
- Asylum: There was a 30% decrease in new asylum cases lodged (368 down from 530). The High Court increased by 94% the asylum cases it decided or resolved in court. This is almost a reverse of the previous year where more cases were resolved outside court hearings.
- Habeas Corpus: The numbers of Habeas Corpus cases – where people tested the legality of their detention, dropped by 25% from 97 to 73.
- Crime and Offences in the District Court: District Court 226,000 road traffic offences;33,000 drugs matters; 3,600 sexual offences; 37,500 larceny/robbery/ fraud matters; 46,000 public order /assaults.
- In total the District Court received over 406,000 new offences last year involving 241,000 people.
- More Serious Crime: 18,500 more serious offences sent to the Circuit, Central and Special Criminal Courts.
- Rape Sentences: 154 sentences given in rape cases of which 36% (55) were 5-10 years; 63% (97) were over ten years. No sentence was under two years, and only two (1.3%) were between 2 and five years.
- Divorce: 4,073 new divorce applications were received: 1806 lodged by men and 2267 lodged by women.
- Domestic Violence: 10% overall increase in Domestic violence applications (20,500) - with a 30% increase in interim barring order applications (1,643).
- Child Welfare: There was a decrease of 22% in the number of applications for protection or supervision orders in the childcare area. From 13,200 to 10,300.
The courts are finalising or resolving / deciding on 38% more childcare applications than in 2016 (9,600 up from 6950), facilitated by more courts, efficiencies, and space provided.
- The Supreme Court saw a 10% increase in applications for leave to appeal.
- The Court increased the numbers of applications dealt with by 56%, whilst delivering 131 reserved judgments – an increase of 30%.
- Waiting times in the Supreme Court are at four weeks for a decision on leave to appeal, and 55 weeks for cases to go to full hearing.
- Court of Appeal saw an increase of 8% in new appeals up to 499. The waiting times for appeals is 22 months – (down from five years before the court was established). The Court heard 449 appeals last year. 29% of its appeals were taken by lay litigants.
- The increase in the size of the Court of Appeal from 10 Judges to 16 in the autumn of 2019 has already had a positive impact on waiting times as the Court could permanently increase the number of divisions sitting simultaneously.
Courts Service Efficiencies & Changes in 2019
- Decade of Change: In catering for and responding to cases and changes in case types and numbers, the Courts Service shows itself to be very adaptable and proactive. 2019, saw the Courts Service begin a decade of strategic change in our plan ‘Strategic Vision 2030’. The Board and Executive have a shared long-term vision for the future of the Courts Service which maps out a modern, digital Courts Service with services re-designed to be user-centric, so as to improve and facilitate access to justice. We have developed a business case to attract funding for the first two years of the plan to modernise.
- Sustainability: For the first time ever the Service has a dedicated sustainability office to help us meet energy efficiency targets, manage energy use, and surpass requirements. We have engaged a full time officer to help us with this task.
- From Bricks to Digital: This will see us move where possible from paper to digital, bricks and mortar to virtual, from physical presentation to online. These developments will, of course, always be considered against the measure that they must improve and not impair the fair, timely and cost effective administration of justice. We will simplify and standardise processes to maximise the benefits digitisation will bring. .
- eLicensing: One area where we have seen immediate results in going online with services is in Licensing – where our eLicensing project was piloted and rolled out across the year. Following it being piloted in some areas by year end, 30% of licensing applications were already taking place online there by the year end.
- Expertise and Efficiencies in Centralisation: Centralisation of services in relation to the service of foreign court documents, and the issuing of jury summonses – outside Dublin – has resulted in efficiencies, freeing up staff in local offices for other duties, and a concentration of expertise in dealing with queries from court users about these services. This is also providing support for rural jobs.
- New Way of Assessing Legal Costs: Assignment of resources to support the new office of Legal Costs Adjudicators – including e-filing and increased office and hearing spaces.
Courts Service in Numbers:
- €2 billion in court funds managed on behalf of minors and wards of court.
- The Courts Service issued 120,000 jury summonses
- 3.2 million visits to our website courts.ie
- Outreach sees 6,000 students visit Criminal courts – from 247 schools.
- 1,500 people supported and accompanied to court in 629 trials / hearings throughout the year, by voluntary groups we work with.
- Where we provide information on family mediation in courthouses, there can be a 400% increase in mediation and agreement.
- The High Court issued 947 written judgments
- 1,292 cases had the costs adjudicated / taxed.
- 5,369 case progression hearings were heard in Family law matters at Circuit Court level.
- Budget of €140 million – 64% from the exchequer and 34% raised through fees.
- The net cost to the state of running the courts across the country is €93 million.
- The Courts Service collected €10.4 million in fines last year.
- The Courts Service collected €44 million in fees for the Exchequer in 2019.
- The Courts Service administered €1.7 million in poor box payments in 2019.